Critic Cecil opens up the good stuff with brief excerpts from the giants and minor wonders of (mainly) 16th- through 19th-century English literature. If the variety of riches does not immediately astound, Cecil's notations, meditations, and flourishes command second readings. His organization is happily amorphous, with headings which range alphabetically from Art I and II through Swans or The Last Lap of Life to Wordsworth, whom he exhibits convincingly as ""the great spiritual autobiographer of our literature."" Among the supremacies of Austen, Henry James, Dr. Johnson, etc., Cecil gives the nod to such currently unfashionable essayists, poets, and novelists as Sir Walter Scott, Charles Lamb, or even Coventry Patmore, ""that distinguished and quirky genius."" Additional pleasures: Sidney Smith, who conceived of Heaven as a place for ""eating pate de foie gras to the sound of trumpets""; the ""clear water"" style of Defoe; the aphorisms of George Savile and William Hazlitt. For those beginning to suspect that they'll never crack that yellowing college Tennyson or that Modern Library Walter Pater, Cecil's anthology is a delightful, liberating road back to excellence.